Privilege Blog

Floodlight On The Unexamined Center, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:57am

It wasn’t a good night for sleep.

If I could write about anything other than the United States’ Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, I would. But I have two reactions I haven’t seen anywhere else, so here goes. Feel free to click away. It is all too much, and the last thing I want is to be a burden.

If you’re online these days, you already know marginalized women will suffer most, you understand the costs society will face–economic and other– from no-exemption bans, and you see the irony in our how we treat children in our healthcare, guns, and immigration policies. You know to donate to abortion funds and how to vote. You have heard the language from the right. I won’t repeat it.

So let us, for the sake of thought, imagine that we aren’t arguing brutal and unresolvable beliefs. Let us, for the sake of, well, for my sake, approach this as though we’re solving a problem. Clearly, we can’t do that for the extremes. But only a minority of Americans want abortion at any time on demand and only a minority want a total ban. So what if we just zoom in such that we don’t even see those opinions? What shows up in the center?

Here are my two idiosyncratic reactions.

First, I don’t really care about “rights.” The Constitution was written as a manifesto to throw off distant rulers. We rule ourselves now. I wish we could shift the pivotal nouns of our culture to “responsibility” and “care.” At the highest level I worry far less about my “rights” being taken away than I do about how to live in a country where so many are allowed to suffer. I get we needed to fight in 1776. And I see we took land and lives from others. At this point, given the sheer abundance of resources, we communally have enough to go around. Quit shoving. I know, dream on. I have nowhere to go with this thought.

Second, and I didn’t realize I felt this until the actual decision came down, somewhere in the center of the abortion debate lies the way America has historically framed women’s sexual desire. Here I have a whole voyage.

The world’s abortion laws can be mapped out by 1) gestational age and 2) hazards to the mother. Let’s use these parameters to deconstruct.

  1. I believe that science could, with some effort, allow the center to find an unconstrained gestational age we could live with, somewhere between 9 and 17 weeks, maybe 20 weeks, if we found the federal political will.
  2. What about hazards to the mother to extend the timeframe? We know the big ones: physical health–including abusive relationships and mental health for rape and incest survivors. Legislators could, with some effort, set those parameters and the national majority would support.

I get caught, and this is a personal and highly privileged, reaction, but it’s mine, in a smaller set of hazards to the woman. Imagine she who follows an impulse. Without access to abortion she has to bear almost 100% of the burden of an experience that someone else was at least 50% responsible for. I’m not even talking about the woman who is too young, or forced, or failed by birth control. I mean the woman who just plain felt like having sex with a man and said, “Nah, I don’t want to use my diaphragm, it gives me UTIs,” or maybe meant to start up the pill again after a breakup but hadn’t gotten around to it. The woman who knew rhythm was unreliable but felt like it had worked before so what was the harm?

She just plain wanted to.

If the gestational age is set late enough, she’s OK. America doesn’t have to openly that she just plain gets to make that decision. But if it’s set too low, well, imagine.

By the way, just on the other side of this woman is the bogeywoman who uses abortion consistently as birth control. I do not believe she exists. I think if we zoom in to the center, she’s not there. She’s a phantom of the right. Don’t @ me to disagree because we’re looking now at the woman who made a mistake. She’s not me, by the way. None of those scenarios are me. But they are someone and they could have been me because I have liked boys for a long, long time and boys, IME, rarely turn down desire.

Here’s what I really wanted to say.

I grew up just as the 1950s and early 60s pressure to be a “good girl” was fading, at least in Northern California. We knew almost nothing in those days. Boys knew less than nothing. If, and this is wholly hypothetical, “good girl” pressure served an evolutionary purpose of preventing unsupported pregnancies, when women can be forced to have babies, does that shame return? If so, just because some of us have resources, doesn’t mean our lives won’t change, even if only in how we are seen by society.

This is trivial in comparison to the terrible outcomes for women across the country. But it’s my triviality, and you all read my blathering, so I’m telling you.

Have a good weekend. It helps to talk about it. I reserve the right to delete comments if I feel they forward nothing. Edited to add: I am deeply embarrassed as I write but I’m ignoring it. I come from a culture of political liberalism but body denial. We were barely allowed to have toenails.

38 Responses

  1. I am deeply disturbed by this as well.
    However, I think that the shame of un-wed Motherhood has diminished since the days of our youth.
    Consider Sarah Palin, someone I consider a champion of this cohert, ran for office with a pregneant unwed daughter.
    I’m mystified by a Court that claims to be pro-life, but strikes down gun laws.
    I’m angry that Congress can not function to legislate laws that work out the solutions for these things, prefering to rely on judges legislating from the bench. I see this ruling as the backlash.
    All is not right with the world.

    1. RoseAG, your comment makes clearer to me what I am trying to say. I agree, there’s much less shame around unwed motherhood. I am hoping for clear articulation of abortion policies so that there can be abortions, within reason, without shame too. The “within reason” part is just impossible in America right now.

  2. Oh oh oh … I’m not quite as articulate are you are about this issue. However, I’ve always been distressed by the term “unwed mother” … shouldn’t there be an “unwed father” in there somewhere? I’m distressed that women so often have to carry the responsibility of pregnancy. So now we have a government that takes away the right of a woman to make a choice … a choice that so often is only hers to make. A very sad day for women.

    1. Beth, I think my kind of words are the only kind I’ve got, but they are by no means the only kind that’s useful. Unwed fathers indeed.

  3. What you propose as a middle ground is what I understand to be the policy of many (most?) European countries. I would like to think it would be acceptable to a majority of Americans. But while I agree with everything you say, I can understand how for those who believe that abortion is murder there is no possibility of compromise. (And all too many politicians benefit from emphasizing division.) I do hope we can find a way to go forward with compassion and understanding.

    1. MJ, Yes, what I believe is the middle ground not coincidentally aligns with many European countries’ policies. I understand that some will find this compromise a misery, both on the side of total bans and on the side of no constraints. Politicians do essentially commercialize division, using false information and bravado. I don’t see how we find compassion if we continue to argue the extremes. But I don’t lose hope.

  4. I appreciate reading your thoughtful comments after my own sleepless night. I am well past the age of motherhood and my heart breaks for all women. It’s ludicrous to have a Justice recite the beliefs of Nathan Hale in his argument. Nathan Hale? I actually thought it was a joke until I read the argument. As someone who has been around for a while, I’ve seen many changes in this country and this decision has to be the most stunningly cruel of all. Those who are pro-life or anti-abortion must not know or be related to anyone who has suffered and almost died from their pregnancy. I do. It reminds me of the Covid deniers; those who don’t believe it exists because they don’t know anyone who has died of it. I do. Before Roe, I can recall women going to back alleys to get abortions, damaging themselves with coat hangers or using pennyroyal to self abort. We will see the same and we will see more children abused and neglected and abandoned; hungry and homeless. It’s difficult for those in ivory towers, like the SCOTUS justices to see the people below. The only real way out if this is to vote and as you stated, keep supporting those non profits who offer help, physically and mentally to the women seeking abortions.

    1. Lynn, This comments rings, strongly. A clarion call. Thank you. I agree. We all decide out of our own experience but only the virtuous admit it.

  5. Thank you for this thought-provoking post. It’s interesting that the two parameters you chose as a focus of discussion were gestational age and danger to the mother (which, as you point out, are the two main considerations traditionally taken by those who have made the rules). Try as I might, I cannot bring myself to focus on any parameter other than my own ability to make every single decision about my own body by myself in consultation with those whom I choose to consult. I just can’t stretch my perspective beyond that. I cannot understand how anyone else should be in a position to make those decisions (unless I am genuinely incapable of doing so, e.g., unconscious or insane, which I suspect is rarely the case). If gestational age and danger to me are considerations, I am the one who should be doing the considering and taking the action I see fit to take, without any requirement to justify myself. The idea that we can reason our way to an ideal rule that will adequately address the individual needs of every single pregnant woman seems ridiculous to me. If we have to make a rule, it should be to let the woman involved make her own decisions without fear of punishment.

    1. Marsha, I hear your clear opinion, and it rings true. I can’t quite go all the way there, because of the fetus, but I wholly support your ability to hold this position because it feels so true for you.

    1. Jadie, Thank you very much. The comments always, always make better anything I’ve written. Including yours.

  6. I have a very particular window on this. Five years ago, I found, via a DNA service, consulted on a whim to find out “how much of a white girl I am” (seems so trivial now – but, very), a biological sister, adopted out at birth. My father’s child. She has since become a part of my family and I adore her. She has very strong opinions about abortion, for good personal reason, as in 1960 she might very well otherwise been aborted. And also because she is LDS, who hold families, children, and let’s be honest, traditional gender roles, in very high esteem.

    So. I have wrestled in earnest with the “personhood” issue at hand, regardless of what “my side” says. I’ve got a dog in the fight, so to speak, one who looks and sounds like my grandmother, who I never hoped to hear again.

    And yet. Yet. I still come down on reproductive rights as crucial to woman’s healthcare and women’s wellbeing. Human well-being. My sister knows how I feel about a child born but not cared for. It is hard. But important.

    1. Oh, Kristina, thank you so much for sharing your story. Human well-being is it. I think for those all the way on the other side, maybe they can’t imagine human well-being without strict adherence to a faith that sets the rules? But I can. You can.

  7. I like what you had to say. Reasonable and reasoned. What is next (and I mean what I am saying). When will women lose the right to work outside of the home, the right to drive, the right to an education?

    And one more thing. The decision to have or not have an abortion can be a decision that brings a woman into a relationship with God – whomever one believes God to be. This decision can possibly deepen ones spirituality . . . and oh yes, I definitely want the government interfering with my spirit.

    1. Anne, It is time to worry about other roads closing to women. And I hadn’t thought about how the decision might intensify spirituality, but now that you say so, yes, of course. And surely it crystallizes a person’s sense of their own life, of their path forward. Thank you.

  8. The parameters are an interesting way of trying to find common ground. Yet the gestational age wouldn’t have worked for one of our family members, which leads me to think it shouldn’t be a parameter. They found out around 12 weeks that there were likely some problems with the fetus. Over the next 8 weeks, there were more tests, scheduled when they could be scheduled, and things looked worse and worse for survival of the fetus (even to term, never mind to live out in the world). Finally, at 20 weeks, they had an abortion. Was there, or would there be, physical harm to the mother in letting nature take its course? Unclear (see second parameter). But does that mean she should have let things go? Nobody should make that decision for another person. (Nothing about this decision was easy, and that little being was mourned.)

    1. Cathy, I am so sorry for your family member. That must have been terrible. You are right, I oversimplified. Essentially the gestational age should serve as the limit to unquestioned abortion. Abortions after that should be available with the recommendation of a doctor. It will almost always be for the health of the mother, but we definitely enter a gray area. That’s where the mother’s mental health, and the burden of carrying a very ill fetus om her physical health, should be assessed by the woman and her doctor for the decision. We, as a society, would have to trust women and doctors. To be sure, we’d have to accept that occasionally the system would not be followed 100% strictly, and we’d have to accept that as a lesser evil.

  9. I can’t stop thinking about this, over here in the UK. Having, like you, grown up in the 70s (a world that seems almost unimaginable now) the pressure never to get pregnant OUT OF WEDLOCK was immense, coloured with shame and disgrace. I, for one, am relieved that this is over. But I also knew quite a few friends who found themselves pregnant and unable to have a child and who went down the lonely road of termination. Not one of them talks about it today and I would not raise it with them, either. It was so terrible a choice to make but their choices were limited. It was also extremely common back then to find yourself pregnant and alone because the would-be fathers simply disappeared, not wanting to be part of the act. There was very little shame attached to them doing so – it was considered a lucky escape and very much the fault of the woman. I had hoped things had changed but I fear not. The spotlight has been turned fiercely on the pregnant woman who is seen as totally responsible but, oddly, not responsible enough to make the decisions that directly affect her life. I do not fool myself that this act will find itself rippling out over here in the UK where the right is on the rise. As the right are very keen on controlling the actions of women (kinder, kirche, kucher anybody?) I shall be hitting the streets in protest if I have to. I am far, far too old to have to worry about having a termination myself but my daughter is not and her rights and responsibilities are my concern. I am also far, far too old to worry about being worried in case I am jailed for civil disobedience, something that is a real possibility over here now. They can slam the door but I will still be shouting. (Raises fist). You are not alone.

    1. Annie, Thank you so much. I fear that the change has provoked a counter-reaction with claws. And thank you for your shouting, and your fist. If we’re not alone there may yet be hope.

  10. Forgot to add the word NOT to the bit about ripple effect in the UK. That is what typing fast when angry will do for you

  11. Lisa, thank you very much for your smart refreshing candor. So many points to unravel: about women’s desire, the 50 percent participation rate, that the founders had no clue about the USA we live in now.
    I am bone-deep tired of this fight, but we have to rally. The Trumpian judges have absolutely no business in our private parts.
    I’ve heard a national day of protest is planned for next Thursday, June 30. Does anyone have a recommendation on best t-shirt to wear? Thank you for the inspiration of this community! Sarah

    1. Sarah, Thank you, yes, there are so many points to unravel. Too many, really, and yet we have to. I love the optimistic question of what t-shirt to wear. We are devastated, and then we open our closets and we start working again.

  12. and your next door neighbour Canada. Abortion is a medical procedure covered under the national health care and is provided in hospital as day surgery along with all sorts of other medical procedures like gall bladders etc, etc. our biggest issue is rural access..
    We must be vigilant though as we also have people who are afraid of women and power, including other women who have found power by being aligned with angry fearful men.

    1. Monica, I only wish I had understood the vigilance required earlier. Absolutely, the women who enjoy inherited/referred power are deeply invested.

  13. Dear Lisa et al ,
    I am cheered by the calibre of your post and the resulting comments – as always .
    I’m in the UK and woke up to this news this morning in tandem with the other Supreme Court ruling that certain restrictions on gun ownership (and hence use whatever anyone says !) are themselves unconstitutional . Many of us over here (I include European countries) are not blind to the irony of “protecting” children in the womb but refusing to try to do anything about children killed at school by those “exercising constitutional rights” .

    1. Rukshana, I’m glad the post cheered you. I’m not at all surprised that the comments did. The irony is almost so strong as to generate a magnetic force.

  14. I feel wholly unqualified to comment on what is an alien debate from my privileged place in the UK (although the days when it becomes more familiar probably aren’t too far away, if the rest of our slide into totalitarianism is anything to go by). But thank you, as always, for sharing your thoughts, they push many tiny buttons in my brain to think more and harder and deeper.

    1. Cara, I hope the UK can lead us back towards reason. I understand that might seem unlikely. Thank you for giving me a little space in your brain. xoxo

  15. Adding to my rage at Roe being overturned is nowhere are addressed the things to help the mother in what she faces:
    counseling around bearing an unwelcome child, provisions for pre-natal, infant and child care, educational opportunities so that the parent can support this child, support so that the child has adequate food and housing. The “other 50%” parent cannot be counted on to provide these essentials nor will the supreme court provide them. More and more, young people are choosing not to have children; will they be counted on to adopt unwanted babies? Paraphrasing what has been said before, “Cherish life until it is born, then abandon it.”

  16. Forgive me for commenting again, and of course don’t publish if you don’t want to. But I feel compelled to tell you that if I and my doctor hadn’t been “trusted” (as you phrase it so well) by society in 1983 when I had surgery for an ectopic (and much-desired) pregnancy, I wouldn’t be writing today at all.

    If my doctor had consulted with his lawyer or any other authority before operating on me, as a prudent doctor would now have to do in states than involve themselves in these decisions, it would have been too late, although neither he nor I knew this at the time. Afterward, he said that he had been amazed at all the blood inside of me, and asked if I had sloshed when I walked (I hadn’t).

    I do not believe that there is any way of knowing beforehand in every case how much time you have, and I cannot allow the state to influence (or retard) any decision which is really between me and my doctor. Simply put, human medical needs are far too extensive and complex to be addressed and codified by the blunt instrument of law.

    I would have died if my doctor or I had hesitated, hence my daughter would never have been born, and whatever impact I have had since then would not have occurred – I would have simply vanished from the world, all because the state was involved in my medical decisions. I really hadn’t considered this enough until today, after reading your post and the comments; I had taken the life-saving timing of my surgery for granted, as good luck (which it was). My life would have ended if more time had been allowed to pass before surgery.

    I do not see any possible way of accommodating an unknown and unanticipated need such as mine for emergency surgery besides leaving the decision up to me and my physician, who at that time was not threatened with punishment or jail, even as I might have been if it happened today in the wrong state. My conclusion: Trust women, period. And don’t threaten health care providers so that they hesitate to provide care – you can’t predict what that hesitation might mean. The state must have no say in this matter. My life depended on me being able to decide, and on my doctor being able to operate without constraint. I am immeasurably grateful, and I can settle for nothing less for other women.

    And thank you for your patience if you have read this whole thing; it was important for me to write it.

  17. I do not argue with anything you have said here and I think this is a tragedy for my own reasons. I certainly am not going to defend the republican bogeyman, but I worked in the billing office of a hospital in NC in the 70’s and there were plenty of women using abortion as birth control. Women on Medical assistance had no choice, birth control was not covered so they had sex, they got pregnant, they had an abortion. the abortions were billed to the patients, the patients had no income to speak of and had no insurance and those bills went unpaid and eventually paid by the government subsidies and your tax dollars. That was the pattern. This pattern will repeat again. the difference being with abortion being illegal those girls will possibly die or have serious consequences of a back alley abortion.

    1. Gay, Thank you for sharing your long experience. I wonder, do you think that more women now have access to and knowledge around birth control? Or is it still so difficult?

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